Rating: PG – Frightening Scenes, Violence, Not Recommended for Young Children
Run Time: 136 minutes
The Amazing Spider Man is in the spirit of Marvel comic books, with a keen emphasis on the tongue-in-cheek over literal drama and a cartoonish feel over a heightened sense of realism. And rightly so, as the addition of “Amazing” in the title kind of takes away from any inherent seriousness. This new film is on a completely different tone than Sam Raimi’s Spider Man movies, which, in simplistic terms, were much “darker”.
This works for and against this first film of a rebooted franchise, destined I might add for at least two more flicks. At times, you want The Amazing Spider Man to break its smile and grimace a bit, but 500 Days of Summer director Marc Webb (a perfect last name for a director of this series) still injects this story with a lively dose of teen melodrama.
No, no. Don’t twist my words and think by “teen melodrama” I am comparing The Amazing Spider Man to Twilight or The Hunger Games. Webb’s film doesn’t have any tendency to pander to the fragile hearts of angst-ridden teenagers. This melodrama is grounded in an attitude that is so confidently ironic that it plays like Jerry Lewis stumbling onto Steve Ditko’s sketchpad. Therefore, it’s easy to embrace the fact that all the students at Parker’s high school look like they’re in their late 20s and at every corner of New York City a burglar is waiting to be web-shot.
There is charm in that. Like there is charm in Andrew Garfield, a youthful 28 year-old British actor (The Social Network, Red Riding) who plays Peter Parker/Spider Man on a wry note. In The Amazing Spider Man, Parker is still in his early years and not yet working for the glib newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle. He is in love not with neighbour Mary Jane Watson, but fellow student Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) who is slightly reduced here to only a passive love interest. It’s also convenient her father (Denis Leary) is the captain of the NYPD, who thinks Spider Man – thus, Gwen’s boyfriend – is nothing but trouble.
Uncle Ben and Aunt May are back, but aren’t really dramatic players. This is mainly because Ben is played by Martin Sheen and May by Sally Field, who aren’t given the time or writing to beat out their preceding reputation. As a result, Uncle Ben’s untimely death doesn’t loom poignantly over Parker’s head nor does Aunt May serve as our hero’s motherly voice of reason.
In fact, the duality of Spider Man is nonexistent in The Amazing Spider Man. There is no real moral divide between his humanity and inhumanity. Webb approaches Parker’s metamorphosis with flippancy and the greater implication that Parker is caught up in a pubescent hormonal episode. Because when he is bitten by that radioactive spider, he develops voracious appetite and strength, cleaning out his house’s fridge and smashing his alarm clock into fragments when it wakes him.
The villain, I will reveal, springs from the sketchy scientific studies of Oscorp, the corporation responsible for the Green Goblin in Raimi’s 2002 Spider Man. This time, the mastermind is scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Anonymous’s Rhys Ifans), who – like Willem Dafoe – we can tell will be the bad guy in the first shot.
Connors begins as that warm, smart and ambitious character who is eventually overtaken by an obsessive central motivation. Here, Connors wants to regrow one of his limbs but as always he miscalculates the experiment and turns into a raving 9-foot monster aptly named the Lizard. His mischievous plans of course are rather silly and involve a lot of pseudo-science and conquering New York City.
I have admitted The Amazing Spider Man has its limitations. But here’s the thing: the movie is 136 minutes. That’s 136 minutes of unfiltered running water. Webb creates a solid summer entertainment that is quick on its feet and snappy with the one-liners.
Shot on RED Epic cameras, the movie looks absolutely stunning and seamless, with every action scene (especially one on the Williamsburg Bridge) earning at least two or three memorable shots. Webb even uses a “Spidey Cam” that may be an obvious gimmick but it comes alive in 3D, a device that is properly enabled only in the action sequences.
From here, I am curious to see where this rebooted franchise will take us. For now, it has an extremely likable and amusing protagonist – thanks to Garfield – and his chemistry with Gwen Stacy is relaxed and delightful (Garfield and Stone are dating in real life). I suspect The Amazing Spider Man will be embraced by Marvel aficionados and probably respected by Raimi fans, which strikes a fair balance.
It’s a very good entertainment with a surprising fresh take on Peter Parker’s story – even if this is a retelling more than his “untold” one that the poster declares. I’ll leave you to discover whether The Amazing Spider Man chooses to use the signature line “with great power comes great responsibility.” You may be surprised. Plus, Stan Lee has made many cameos in the Marvel movies, but his one here might just be his best.